New York State estimates it needs more than 200,000 new...

New York State estimates it needs more than 200,000 new clean energy workers to reach its 2030 emissions goals. Credit: Getty Images/Yaorusheng

Long Island is poised to play a key role in helping New York realize its ambitious climate goals, but that mission can’t be accomplished without a robust and well-trained workforce.

Ongoing labor shortages exacerbated by COVID-19 threaten to delay and in some cases derail the clean energy infrastructure and power generation projects needed to combat climate change and make the net-zero economy a reality.

To break the labor logjam, we need smart policies that support the future clean energy workforce and ensure an equitable transition away from fossil fuels.

Right now, 2.3 million New Yorkers — the vast majority of whom are people of color — are ready, willing, and eager to get to work, but are blocked from doing so due to the lingering stigma of a past criminal conviction. Albany can unlock the power of this overlooked community by passing the Clean Slate Act, which would automatically seal the records of those who pay their debts to society once they reach certain eligibility thresholds.

Support for Clean Slate is popping up in unexpected places. Earlier this year, the Business Council of New York State recognized its potential to help ease the labor shortage. Others in the private sector have done the same, including National Grid, which cited the need for more “skilled and highly trained employees necessary to achieve the state’s clean energy goals.”

Formerly incarcerated New Yorkers are needlessly frozen out of meaningful opportunities in the growing green economy. Since 2015, New Hour for Women and Children—Long Island has been helping formerly incarcerated individuals rebuild their lives after prison, so we know firsthand their challenges.

Training these New Yorkers to help build the clean energy system of the future aligns with the state’s climate goals, which include righting the wrongs of racially discriminatory environmental policies. State law earmarks at least 35% of clean energy funds for disadvantaged communities, where too many formerly incarcerated people live in poverty.

Providing formerly incarcerated New Yorkers with a pathway into green construction and energy jobs would also help increase diversity in an industry in which Black workers are the most underrepresented, according to a 2021 report from a coalition of energy organizations.

To reach New York’s 2030 emissions goals, the state estimates more than 200,000 new clean energy workers are needed. A recent report by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli underscored that this requires more educational and workforce development programs to ensure those positions can be filled. 

Nowhere is the need greater than on Long Island, where solar projects jumped nearly 20% last year amid the region’s emergence as a clean energy hub. Projects like the Calverton Solar Energy Center and the South Fork Wind Farm are just the beginning. Green hydrogen, being piloted in Hempstead, also brings the promise of a future job boom. 

New York has positioned itself as a national leader in combating climate change and is taking steps to achieve environmental justice. With Clean Slate not in the state budget, it must be a top priority for the post-budget session. 

There’s no time to waste. Albany must step up when it comes to workforce justice policies or our ambitious clean energy goals may be unattainable, and the communities that have disproportionately borne the brunt of damage caused by fossil fuels will continue to suffer. 

This guest essay reflects the views of Serena Martin-Liguori, executive director of New Hour for Women and Children, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering women and children impacted by incarceration.

This guest essay reflects the views of Serena Martin-Liguori, executive director of New Hour for Women and Children, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering women and children impacted by incarceration.

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